A Powerful Way to Honor Diversity

By Social Studies Teacher Don Kaplan

One of the best field trips we take every fall — maybe all year long — is to the annual MARD Conference (Mid Atlantic Region Diversity Conference), which took place last weekend. Part workshops, part guest speakers, the goal of the conference is to simultaneously expose and celebrate students’ various identities. You’re encouraged to be real and to talk frankly about who you are with others who are like you, but also with those who aren’t to broaden their minds and build empathy.

The event’s “silent movement” activity really epitomizes the goal of the day: Keynote speaker and activist Rodney Glasgow gathers all 400 student and faculty attendees together in a gymnasium, then asks students to silently answer questions about their race, religion, sexual orientation, economic background, family dynamics, learning challenges, physical disabilities, etc by stepping in and out of a circle in the middle of the gym. It takes bravery and vulnerability to self-identify in this way. As a teacher, it’s powerful to watch. “Were you honest in your responses?” Rodney asked students at the conclusion of the exercise. “Were you comfortable in being honest? If not, why not?”

This was Solebury School’s third year attending the event. Each year, more and more students sign up to go — this year, twice as many kids went as last year. Here’s what a few of our students had to say, and why we’ll be back for a fourth time next year:

“MARD was such a great experience. Being with people who can understand being biracial or struggling with the same issues regarding religion or family structure was such a comforting thing.  And as much as I felt comfort through that connection, I at times felt uncomfortable because of the powerful conversations we had about almost unspoken issues in the world today. The knowledge gained is indescribable. Thank you for the opportunity.” —Paola ’21

“MARD is always a great experience, and I enjoy my visit every year. Every year it seems to get better and better, and I look forward to hearing other point of views and voices from all the different ethnicities. I wish the event happen more often!” —Troy ’20

“This was my second year going to MARD, and I swear I learn new things each time. Being at MARD allows me to truly represent myself and be surrounded by people who understand what I have been through or am going through. It’s such an open and accepting space to be real. We talked about things we normally wouldn't in the classroom at a level of closeness that shapes your way of thinking. I truly appreciate these trips and you can already mark me down for next year.” —Amel ’20

Lastly, a few words from my colleague, Solebury School teacher Sarah Lanzetta, on her first MARD experience:

“The MARD Conference was incredibly impactful for me. I’m still, a week later, processing the experience through many lenses: as a first-time participant, faculty advisor to the students attending, educator, coach, woman, mother, wife, daughter, person of color, person of privilege, person whose privileges and rights are being questioned and/or taken away, and a human being.

There were so many moments, big and small, that resonated with me in one manner or another. I had feelings of pride, watching our Solebury students be brave enough and passionate enough to speak or show their truth in front of a crowd of 400+ peers and adults. I had feelings of connectedness in sessions with other educators who have a shared goal of trying to create safe spaces for our students (our future) to simultaneously grow, learn, share, question, excel, and be challenged while not being be beaten down by all of the pressures, fears, inequities, and frustrations of life. I also had (and continue to have) feelings of hope as our Solebury students talked to us and each other on the ride home, on campus afterwards in one-on-one chats, and in assembly, standing with excitement in front of their peers with smiles and tears, arm in arm with each other with ideas for how to keep the momentum going and asking of us, the adults, how to bring the feelings and experiences of the MARD conference here to Solebury so that the movement and momentum will continue and be expanded.

I’m still processing, but I’m in...I’ve been impacted and there is no turning back.” —Sarah Lanzetta